The Concordia Publishing House Podcast

Politicizing Jesus with Rev. Dr. Matt Richard

July 21, 2020 Elizabeth Pittman Season 1 Episode 3
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Politicizing Jesus with Rev. Dr. Matt Richard
Chapters
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Politicizing Jesus with Rev. Dr. Matt Richard
Jul 21, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Elizabeth Pittman

It can be easy to fashion a version of Jesus to fit our political views, to blur the lines between the hope promised in a political campaign with the hope we cling to in Christ. Believe it or not, Jesus is not a democrat or republican. Or an independent.  How can we avoid politicizing Jesus? That’s what we’re going to talk about today with our guest, Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard.

 

Pastor Richard is the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Minot, ND. He is also the author of Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Show Notes Transcript

It can be easy to fashion a version of Jesus to fit our political views, to blur the lines between the hope promised in a political campaign with the hope we cling to in Christ. Believe it or not, Jesus is not a democrat or republican. Or an independent.  How can we avoid politicizing Jesus? That’s what we’re going to talk about today with our guest, Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard.

 

Pastor Richard is the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Minot, ND. He is also the author of Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Elizabeth Pittman:

Welcome to the Concordia Publishing House podcast, where we consider everything in the light of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. I'm your host Elizabeth Pittman. It can be easy to fashion a version of Jesus to fit our political views to blur the lines between hope promised and a political campaign with the hope that we cling to in Christ. But believe it or not Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican or even an independent. So how can we avoid politicizing Jesus? That's what we're going to talk about today with our guests the Reverend Dr. Matthew Richard. Pastor Richard is the pastor of St. Luke's Lutheran church in Minot, North Dakota. He is also the author of Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up, 12 False Christs. Welcome Pastor Richard.

Matthew Richard:

Hey, it's good to be here Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I'm glad to have you here. How's everything?

Matthew Richard:

Good. Good. Good. Just getting off some vacation time here so getting back on the grind of things here in good old Minot, North Dakota.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well, it's probably a little cooler in Minot than it is in St. Louis right now.

Matthew Richard:

I don't think it's as nearly as humid as you guys get down in St. Louis.

Elizabeth Pittman:

This is very true so that's a good thing. So, it's really hard to escape the headlines surrounding politics these days and everywhere you turn there is either a headline, a social post, a conversation at the water cooler about pick your election from the presidential election on down. And while Jesus doesn't have a political agenda for the United States he isn't apathetic or dismissive about it either and neither should we be. So how should we as Christians, why should we care about what happens in the political sphere?

Matthew Richard:

Yeah, well very simply stated this is actually covered in the small catechism. In the small catechism there is what's called the table of duties at the very end. We hear about our responsibilities as Christians in this realm of really if you look at this realm as a family which is going to be that family, that section has maybe a son or a daughter or a parent or a grandparent. So we have that sphere of the family then there's also that sphere of the church which we would obviously understand that there's that realm of the church. And then Luther goes on in the catechism to show that there's this realm of the state and these three things, the government, the family, and the church are what we call the three estates or the three spheres that we function in as Christians.

Matthew Richard:

And so, we don't merely just operate in the realm of the family apart from the church and we don't merely operate in the realm of the church and that's it. We function as citizens and participants of all three of these spheres. And so, we're called to be faithful fathers, and moms, and grandparents and children, faithful church persons, pastors, parishioners, and then we're also called to be faithful citizens. Indeed, there is that realm of the state, the realm of the government which we have to add that it was instituted by God. We hear from the apostle Paul in Romans 13 it was instituted by God for the sake of enacting justice in our land and keeping peace and order. But we're definitely part of that citizenship as well, that kingdom of what we call the kingdom on the left which is that government and the state and the kingdom of the right which is the church as well as having that sphere of our family as well. All three of those we walk within.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So as we walk within those three spheres and focusing specifically on the civic realm right now how can we avoid crossing the line and confusing God's plan and our vocation with Jesus and changing how we view Jesus in light of that? How can we avoid warping our perception of Jesus?

Matthew Richard:

Yeah again, it comes back to more specifically in talking about that left hand kingdom which is the kingdom of the state and then that right hand kingdom which is the church we want to understand that we want to keep them distinct. They're distinctive kingdoms with distinctive purposes. Perhaps maybe just the best way to distinguish those two is do a little compare and contrast. And so, if we think of the kingdom on the left we think of the American flag as maybe representative of that kingdom of the left and then the kingdom of the right we think of the altar, the altar and the church. The kingdom of the left we can call the state and the kingdom on the right the church. The kingdom on the left is going to operate by the sword and laws and justice. The kingdom on the right is going to be that word and sacraments and it's going to function with forgiveness and salvation.

Matthew Richard:

And so again, we've got to be very careful that we don't diminish them because they're both instituted by God. So we're not going to simply say, "Well, the church is lower than the state or the state is lower than the church." They are separate distinct kingdoms for the purpose of ultimately our salvation, good order and salvation and so forth.

Matthew Richard:

Now where things get in a trouble here is with all things when we come to making false Christs what can happen is when we take Jesus and we either subtract from Jesus or we add to Jesus or we... Think of a blender, we take a blender, we mix the two kingdoms together and we hit blend and we make a nice smoothie and then we can no longer distinguish between where the left hand kingdom starts and ends and where the kingdom of the right starts and ends. And you have this blending together of the state and the church where they [inaudible 00:05:55] together. And that's an old school word what we call a theocracy and then that gets really confusing. Is the pastor there to enact a law? Is he the sheriff or is the pastor there to deliver God's gifts of word and sacrament? And it gets really, really confusing.

Matthew Richard:

Another way to think about this too is also how we as Lutherans, we embrace that law and gospel. Again, we want to make sure that we don't blend law and gospel together. We want to have them distinctively spoken. There's Mount Sinai for law and there's Mount Calvary for the gospel, two separate mounts with two distinct purposes which I ultimately aimed the benefit of mankind to drive us to repentance and then to give us faith. And it's the same thing with the kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right to keep good order, to keep justice in our land with the state and then to deliver forgiveness and life and salvation in that kingdom of the right.

Elizabeth Pittman:

And looking back to Jesus's time politicizing him was nothing new, correct? Or viewing Jesus as more than just simply our savior at the time they were looking for him, correct me if I'm wrong but looking to Jesus as almost a political savior as well?

Matthew Richard:

Yeah. We think about this, the disciples, I mean it's easy to go back and pick on the disciples. If you can look back at them and you can get hindsight, Monday morning quarterbacking. You can look back at the disciples and get after them but we have to keep in mind Jesus was over and over and over describing why he was going to Jerusalem.

Matthew Richard:

We think in Matthew chapter 20 they're going towards Jerusalem and the sons of Zebedee they're on the way the Jerusalem and I'm going to loosely paraphrase this. The disciples were like, "Ooh, Jesus when you get to Jerusalem and you topple all the religious leaders and when you topple the Roman empire and when you set things right and you're sitting on your throne we want to sit right next to you. We want to be in power. We want to be up high. We want to be in that ruling class with you with that new kingdom and that new power and that new glory." And Jesus goes on to say he says, "You do not understand what you are wishing. Can you drink the cup of suffering that I'm going to drink?" And so forth.

Matthew Richard:

In other words Christ approached Jerusalem to descend towards death at Mount Calvary, Golgotha and he was descending to die for the sins of mankind. They wanted to ascend, which what we call the fancy word a theology of glory, they wanted to ascend on top for power and control and so forth. They were thinking in the realm of Jesus toppling the empires in that left hand kingdom whereas Jesus was accomplishing something much grander and bigger than just merely being a King of a very temporary, small earthly kingdom. His kingdom is far above all the earthly kingdoms we have in history and currently present. And so, the mission of Christ is much bigger than just simply overthrowing an economic system or being the King of the hill of a political party. His is conquering sin, death, and the devil for all of humanity, for all kingdoms of the world, that we all might be buried into Christ and raised in him.

Elizabeth Pittman:

How might we recognize someone who has fallen into the trap of viewing Jesus in a political way today?

Matthew Richard:

Well, I think this comes back to it's very simple, asking the question, obviously asking the question what verbs... So we think now I'm going back to my old English days in high school I was a terrible English student and thinking about the verb. A verb is an action. So you have a subject of the sentence. The subject is usually the focus of the person and the verb is they're doing something and then they're doing it to someone. So the question is what verb do we understand Jesus doing? What is Christ about? Is Christ about bleeding and dying and the forgiveness of sins or is he about something else?

Matthew Richard:

And now we've got to be very careful. It's not that again we want to affirm that lefthand kingdom that is definitely in the interest of us as Christians to vote well, to be well informed voters, to voice their opinion about ethics that have gone wrong in society. However, when it comes to the church the primary message of the church has to be, it has to be Christ bleeding and dying and forgiving of sins. Because when I look up in this world and I listen to all the different news channels and I listen to all the different political shows and the radio programs and so forth and even unfortunately in so many churches, I don't hear the message of the gospel. Now, when I say gospel not the good news of toppling kingdoms but the good news of Christ toppling sin, death, and the devil, the good news of Christ satisfying the wrath of God for us as sinful humanity. I don't hear that message as much as we ought.

Matthew Richard:

And so the church, we're not exclusively that message of the forgiveness of sins but it better be the primary because we're not hearing it elsewhere. And so, if your Christ that you are talking about is all about a political action or some sort of social justice and not about the forgiveness of sins then I would question maybe if you're a little off center or you maybe have to get realigned to the main purpose of Christ. Again, he didn't go to Jerusalem to topple the religious Pharisees or throw Pilate off his throne he went to die and bleed and rise again.

Elizabeth Pittman:

When we encounter someone who has taken that point of view how can we lovingly bring them back along and help them understand the real Jesus as opposed to the false one?

Matthew Richard:

I'm a fan of the old, what's it called the old Socratic method, these old philosophers that existed before Christ. You have Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and now keep in mind they were Greeks, they weren't Christians. But Socrates was pretty great because he would just ask questions. I've been a fan of asking questions. And when you ask questions of an individual you can do it without intimidating them, you can do it without coming across as a jerk. Pardon me how I say that but coming across as an arrogant jerk. You can just simply ask questions, "So tell me about this philosophy or this political thing?" Or how maybe if they're accentuating Christ in regards to maybe a politicized Jesus, "Tell me more about that." And then have them explain it.

Matthew Richard:

Oftentimes what happens in our culture unfortunately is that many times, and I'm guilty of this myself, we all too easily are just parroting what we hear. We hear something on the news or we hear something on our radio program and then we get drawn into the emotion and the drama of our culture and we just repeat these talking points without even really thinking about it. So if somebody does that I would say ask a question. "What do you mean by what you're saying there?" Which really forces us to contemplate the words that we're using. Do we know what we're saying?

Matthew Richard:

And then once we contemplate that how do we derive that to be true? What do we base that upon? And ultimately that has to come back to God's holy word and to the word of Christ. And oftentimes we will put words into Jesus's mouth or we will aspire and affirm things that simply cannot be backed up by the Bible. And so, that's where you can very lovingly and kindly ask people too, "Where did you learn that to be true? What are you basing that upon?" And oftentimes very, very quickly you will find that sometimes individuals will base their opinions spiritually speaking off of talking points and culture rather than the Holy writ, the scriptures, the word, the Bible that is for us.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So as Christians with a vocation to our community and our civic realm how can we be active participants, not dispassionate participants but also keep focused on the way we should be doing it that honors God and that continues to keep the two kingdoms separate?

Matthew Richard:

Yeah, I would say it's very, very simple. Just be thinking about the context in which you're speaking. Now Elizabeth right now you and I are visiting and you can see I have a collar on and I have this collar on. And oftentimes when I'm visiting with people I'll say, "If we're going to talk about politics," then I'll actually reach up and I put my hand over the white tab and I'll just simply say, "Okay, now I'm not going to speak as a pastor with that vocation as a church I'm going to speak as a citizen of the United States. And as a citizen, as a Christian, a Christian citizen, I'm going to speak now on the basis of these things."

Matthew Richard:

And that's where many times we can go towards the 10 commandments. We think about the 10 commandments which are good and true. The 10 commandments are God's gifts to us. If you think about the 10 commandments each of those commandments are intended to protect a gift of God. So when God says don't murder it's because life is precious. He doesn't want life to be damaged or cut short. And so we are for life from the womb all the way to the grave. We are for life because God says life is precious, do not murder. So therefore in so far as we are citizens we speak very clearly about the gift of life. And we can go through the rest of the 10 commandments as well talking about thou shall not steal. We are for the gift of our neighbors property, holding up our neighbor's property as good and true and so forth.

Matthew Richard:

So again, it's thinking through the context of what hat or what sphere I'm speaking from. And then there's going to be a time and place as a citizen and also as a family member where that confession of the church comes about in our vocations as we confess Christ as well simply understanding those contexts. So again, it's distinguishing the sphere and the context we are in and how we speak. And I would think that very, very importantly the 10 commandments are a wonderful tool for us to study in that realm of that left hand kingdom for keeping good order and a stable society.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I like how you're referencing and you didn't use this word, this is my word, but there's an intentionality to our behavior, an intentionality to the words we use and thinking about things. So not mindlessly parroting comments, not mindlessly behaving, but acting intentionally for the good of our community and our families and those that we encounter.

Matthew Richard:

Right. I'll many times when I'm out and about in the community or if I'm on an airplane visiting with somebody if I don't have my color, my clergy tab on I can visit with the person about things within the state and I will not even bring up the name of Christ at all. Now I'm not saying we don't, I'm not saying we omit Christ from speaking Christ in that realm of the state. But what I am advocating for is that there is a sense where that left hand kingdom does function as the rule of law for good order. And you can talk all about ethics, what is right and what's wrong according to the law as an informed Christian.

Matthew Richard:

And then when a person says to you, "Why are you so much for this gift of life?" You say, "Well, life is a gift." "Well, why is it a gift?" "Well, God says it's a gift. The fifth commandment says thou shall not murder because life is precious." "Well, why is life precious?" "Well because Christ looked at every life and he said that's worth dying for, that life is worth dying for." So every life on this planet Christ bled for and he died for that's why life has this intrinsic value. Not only that, the scriptures say that we're created in the image of God. See, so we can start from that realm of the state and we can work our way back towards that confession of Christ. But again, remember the sphere and remember the purpose of the kingdoms and that that purpose of the right hand kingdom is the word and sacraments, that purpose of the lefthand kingdom is to legislate good laws to keep good order and for the sake of justice.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Thank you Pastor Richard for spending some time with us today to help us keep focused on the real Jesus. If you would like to learn more about recognizing false Christs that are in the world and culture visit cph.org/realjesus. At that website you will find Pastor Richard's book that walks through the most common false Christs and not only debunks them but points you solidly to the real Jesus who died and rose for our sins. Thank you Pastor Richard. We appreciate your time today.

Matthew Richard:

Thanks Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Pittman:

See you next time everyone. Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Concordia Publishing House podcast. I pray that this time was valuable to your walk with Christ. We'd love to connect with listeners on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter at concordiapub. Visit cph.org for more resources to grow deeper in the gospel.